What is the fascination with superheroes in the movies?

This mini-rant is brought on by this week’s cover of Entertainment Weekly, which is a preview of the upcoming film version of The Green Lantern.

What is the fascination with superheroes at the movies? There are several superhero movies every summer, and in general they do very well. But they just don’t interest me at all.

Going through this Wikipedialist of superhero movies, I see that the last one I saw was Pixar’s *The Incredibles *from 2004, which of course wasn’t a “real” superhero film. The last “real” one I saw was Batman Returns from 1992, and I didn’t like it. The last one I actually liked was Superman II from 1980 – of course, I was only 18 years old then, so what did I know.

I know it must be me – these movies are, in general, very popular.

Because they make make money. The variety is because there are still many characters which have not been used, and thus the possiblity of making a lot of money still remains.

Recently (about ten years or so) CGI technology had gotten to the point that comic-book imagery can be portrayed reasonably well on-screen.

One might as easily ask the same question about romantic comedies. I’ll bet there are a lot more of those than superhero movies.

Hollywood makes movies in order to make money, not to interest you. That’s really all there is to it.

I LOVE superhero movies. Why? I’ve never analyzed my enjoyment of them too much…I think it’s just the fantasy that there could be someone out ready to rescue you at any moment and that they do so altruistically.

I think a few of the superhero movies have actually been very good, too. I liked the Batman reboots, the first two X-Men movies, and the first two Spiderman movies (I actually haven’t seen the third, but apparently there was a big drop-off in quality).

“Because they make money” is a really insufficient answer.

  1. CGI has progressed to the point where the more outlandish superpowers can more easily be depicted on screen.
  2. They’re ready-made plots perfect for mindless action movies. All that’s really needed is a scriptwriter to massage the plot into a 2-hour movie and a cast that looks right.
  3. The comic book industry is slowly but surely dwindling away as much as any other print media. Marvel in particular is pushing their IP into movies with a will both as an alternate means of revenue and to keep interest in comic books alive as long as possible.
  4. On the consumer side, people who grew up with Marvel’s current crop of superheroes are now adults with disposable income, so they’re playing on the nostalgia factor. We’re seeing a lot of this as people who grew up in the 80s are becoming adults; Transformers is included in this.
  5. Superhero movies and other movies based on existing IP like video game movies and things were very very weak in the 90s and early 00s. Then X-Men and Spider-Man came along, and everyone, movie-goers and studios alike, realized that paying attention to the superhero’s canon and not “reimagining” the IP got the fans far more interested in going to see the movies. So making a strong effort to cleave to the spirit of the comic books has paid off well for the studios, especially since they basically have a built-in viewer base ready to go for each new movie.

Very interesting responses. And it reminds me of my college days, when I wasn’t interested in superhero comics either. A lot of my friends were wild about the latest X-men comic, or whatever, and I couldn’t care less.

For comics, I had just gotten into Doonesbury.

Going by their prominence in entertainment magazines could lead to inflated opinion of the general level of “fascination.” Movies with costumed superheroes (or vampires and werewolves*) make for more eye-catching covers and photo spreads than your typical romantic comedy.

There are also more details that can be discussed in a brief article without the writers and editors putting much thought into it. Look at how easy it is to generate a spirited discussion of Ryan Reynolds costume, versus how many people truly cared who designed George Clooney’s suits in his latest film.

*ETA: Judging from coverage in Entertainment Weekly, one would think “True Blood” is the most important show on TV.

The only proper answer is that Hollywood always beats a trend to death. This year it’s comic books. It’s been zombies and disaster movies and historic epics. The actual subject matter doesn’t mean anything. Only that somebody else made money.

On top of that, I’ll add that comics and movies are both primarily visual media which makes translating between the two easier. Some “translation” is required since things that look good in a comic don’t necessarily look good on a screen; but there’s much less of the “unfilmable” problem that you get with, say, books.

I’d also add that stories meant for 12 year old children written 50 years ago have better and more original stories than 90% of the crap being produced in Hollywood today might have something to do with it: it’s not that everybody likes superhero movies, there’s nothing else to watch.

Bullshit. The golden age of comics were low fantasy with ridiculous plots and minimal to no consistency. To try to say that stories where powers like super weaving were introduced, only to be (rightfully) forgotten in the very next issue, were on the same level or better than “90% of the crap” today is disingenuous at the very best.

People have always liked stories about larger-than-life heroes fighting larger-than-life enemies and facing larger-than-life personal problems. Superheroes are simply updated versions of Hercules and Odysseus, Sir Lancelot and Robin Hood. People today are too jaded to accept “normal” people having such adventures, but demigods like Spider-Man or Tony Stark? We can buy that.

It’s like he’s got a thousand faces. Always interesting to see the next one.

It’s not even that large of a percentage of the films that are made. The wiki article lists 74 films, two made before Superman in 1978. So between 1978 and 2011 there are 72 films, which averages out to about 2 superhero films per year. Over the past ten years, the average is up, but even for the biggest year for superhero films (2008), only eight are listed. That’s not many considering the number of films that hit the screens every year.

Superhero films lend themselves well to franchises which Hollywood loves. Even with that long list, there isn’t that much variety; 14 of the 74 films listed are based on either Superman or Batman. Some other notable series: Darkman (3); Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (3); Spider-Man (3), X-Men (5), Blade (3). So 31 of the 74 films listed are based on 7 characters/titles.

So you have larger-than-life stories with clearly defined heroes and villians; they come with a huge fanbase or at least people familiar with the names and they can easily become a money-making machine. What’s not to love?

Oh yeah, and don’t forget the marketing tie-in possibilities that you just don’t find with “realistic” dramatic films.

You also have a built in core base of fans. If you make a romantic comedy someone might say, “If I miss this another one will be out soon.” But if Green Lantern is your favourite, the you want to see this movie, if just to see what it’s about.

Remember also that box office isn’t as important as it once was. This Green Lantern will be around for decades for a new generation of fans to rent or buy on Blu Ray


The power to do what we want, to set things right. Power in a world in which we Humans are largely powerless to change things or to fight the evil we see around us.

That is what Superheroes are about.

For me it’s about the notions of responsibility and sacrifice. Superheroes are people with agendas. For Batman it’s about restoring order and justice to a Gotham City that murdered his father. For the X-Men it’s about finding a balanced approach to combating irrational hate and persecution, about promoting tolerance in a world that fears difference. And in order to achieve their goals, they have to make sacrifices, sometimes royally shitty ones that no human being should ever be forced to make. And sometimes they do what they want because they’re flawed self-centered human beings, and the consequences are catastrophic.

It’s like real life on steroids.

By and large, people don’t want stories of ordinary people doing ordinary things. And I don’t think people still believe in stories of ordinary people doing extradordinary things. So what’s left? Stories of extarordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Wasn’t all this just as exactly true when superhero movies were box-office poison?